Philippians 4:8 - part 5
“…whatever is lovely…think about these things.”
Next is the word “Prosphilēs” which only occurs here and is a supposed compound of two other words: the preposition “pros” mainly meaning to or towards (directionally), and the verb “phileō” meaning fond approval or love. Since “…whatever is towards love…” is awkward English, most English translations, with a few exceptions, consistently use “lovely” or “lovable” as the translation. A helpful way of reading this phrase is “whatever will move you to love more.” What things will move you to love Christ and people more, and what will move you to love Christ and people less?
People often think of things in categories that have clear distinctions: near or far, black or white, right or wrong. The same people often forget though, that most choices are not clearly right or clearly wrong. Temptations are never presented with flashing neon signs saying “This is wrong, and will lead you astray!” Temptations are usually subtle and slowly lead you down the wrong path. Rarely does “Temptation Point A” present itself as obviously evil. Instead, it entices you down a path that doesn’t seem that bad. Before you know it, you find yourself all the way to “Temptation Point M”, which, if presented at the beginning of the whole mess, you never would have gone for.This process sometimes happens in a matter of seconds, other times it happens over the course of years. The longer someone has been in it, the more difficult it is to see the way out.
When a Christian enters into a temptation, their love grows cold and dark. Being consumed with self, they fail to recognize the signs of true love. Of course, as followers of Jesus and thus children of God, when Christians confess and repent – they are forgiven in an instant. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. While forgiveness happens instantly, life corrections usually do not. Changing reactive thoughts and deeply embedded thinking patterns may take some time. This is when we are encouraged to think on “lovely” things that help us to love Christ and people more.
For example, the Psalmist asks himself in Psalm 43:5 – “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?…”. At this point, the writer has a choice – to either answer the question by thinking in a way towards love, or away from it. If his thoughts were going away from love, he might answer the question by writing “Well…you’re downcast because life is just awful right now and God must hate you.” Instead, the verse ends with this self-exhortation “…Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Notice that the Psalm doesn’t spiral into endless questioning that could lead to bitterness. Instead, it’s ending is a small but significant step, thinking towards love – “Hope in God…”.
Thinking towards love – God’s love – serves us in two ways. First, it’s encouraging to understand that we don’t have to be unrealistic in our thoughts. We can think about life’s situations as they are, yet with the backdrop of the Cross illuminating it all – as Romans 5:8 says, “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Second, this acts as a warning for when our thoughts start going away from the direction of love. As ship tossed about by the wind needs its captain to steer the boat in the direction he wants to go, so our thoughts must also be guided through life’s difficulties. The good news is that Christ is our captain in life’s difficulties and always. He guides our thoughts, decisions, and actions when we bring our minds back to what helps us to love Him more.